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The various faces of crime

Survey by Seade shows the profile of those involved in violence in São Paulo

Urban crime is one of the phenomena that most trouble big cities in the world today. In Brazil, the subject is attracting still more attention because of the rising tide of violence in recent years, but although we know that crime exists, little is known about its perpetrators. The survey Building an Integrated Analytical Model of Data, the first stage of which has just been completed by the State Foundation for Data Analysis (Seade), with the support of FAPESP, discloses data that give a better understanding of the phenomenon in the State of São Paulo. In the opinion of Luiz Henrique Proença Soares, general coordinator of the survey, the results show that the mechanisms of exclusion and discrimination in the profile of the criminals apprehended are being reinforced.

“There is disproportional representation of the weakest segments of society”, he considers. One of the most surprising observations has to do with skin color. This is because, although whites are in the majority in the investigations opened in the State, blacks are detained more often. “This does not mean that blacks form the majority in prisons, but there is a difference involving skin color”, he says.

In the coordinator’s view, there are two ways of looking at the phenomenon. The first is that the better level of schooling and the higher income of whites ensure that they have better access to defense mechanisms. “The system of prejudice is made of layers one on top of the other which tend to be self-reinforcing”, observes Soares. The second point is that the justice system itself can be discriminatory. This is because part of the process of violent crimes is subject to popular juries, which can easily reproduce the prejudices of society itself. “This question can arise in the Jury Court, also involving decision makers, including the judge. The law is a man-made institution and is fallible”, he emphasizes. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), São Paulo’s population is 72% white, 4% black, and 21% mixed race.

Another observation is that, although whites are in the majority of those involved in lawsuits, the share of blacks increased from 1990 to 1997. The biggest difference was seen in violent crimes not involving death. Blacks, who accounted for 31.2% of the cases in 1990, accounted for 37.9% seven years later. Whites made up 66.9% in 1995 and 59.6% in 1997. “Classification by skin color must be viewed with care. This is considerable discussion surrounding the collection of data in the census. And if in the IBGE, which as an institution is concerned with the quality of information, there is still this problem, imagine what it is like at Police Stations, which have no long-standing tradition in the use of data”, he says.

The starting point for the survey was the investigation of the data of the São Paulo Criminal Justice System (the Security Department, the Judicial Authority, and the Penitentiary Administration Department), which were compared against the results of the IBGE’s and the Seade’s population figures. “In this way we have the flow of individuals within the criminal justice system from end to end, observes Soares. “This means not confining the approach solely to the environment of the police, but extending it to institutions jointly responsible for social control. The growth in crime, seen in the statistics, may be reflecting a succession of other aspects”.

Social factors
The examination of the data was based on the use of four categories: sex, schooling, marital status, and skin color, these data were processed in respect of two periods: 1990 and 1997. In Soares’s view, the estimates and the impact of crime on society cannot be calculated by using police statistics alone. “It is no use thinking of purely suppressive action or that based on police work. Public Security and Justice must be taken as the result of multiple social factors and, at the same time, as the result of action by the State”, he observes.

This study enables us to examine certain features of criminal behavior precisely. In recent years, for example, there has been an increase in the number of people tried who have at least secondary education. In Soares’s view, there are a few possible answers, relating this phenomenon to the general increase in people’s schooling and to others that associate the rise in the number of secondary education criminals with greater involvement by the middle classes in the world of crime. This response, however, would require a qualitative survey.

The study suggests that the profile of the people investigated and tried in the State of São Paulo is mostly male. Out of crimes not involving death, men were responsible for 91.4% of police investigations 1990 and 95.5% in 1997. Women’s share of these crimes, therefore, fell and the stabilization of their share of crimes involving death between 1990 and 1995 was also identified. Women’s share in lethal violent crime was 4.6% in 1990 and 4.4% seven years later. In the opinion of Renato Sérgio de Lima, the project’s technical coordinator, this change is because of the increase in violent crime, which is more associated with men.

“Because of this, from the sociological standpoint, as well as the increase in violent crimes, studies suggest that the police have a greater perception of crime committed by men more than they do those committed by women feeding back certain crimes and having an effect on the other components of the Criminal Justice System”, he observes.

The figures on the marital status of individuals charged and tried also show an increase in the number of single people. According to the technical coordinator, we should allow for the fact that in completing the data no distinction is drawn between those that merely do not have formal conjugal status from those that are genuinely single, classifying them all as single. Among investigations into non-lethal crimes, single people represented 50.8% in 1990 and 70.3% in 1997. In the case of lethal crimes, single people tried in 1990 accounted for 50.6% against 68.2% in 1997. “The increase may be related to the change in people’s attitude with regard to official marriage in recent years”, comments Lima.

Soares emphasizes, however, that this survey does not enable us to draw a firm conclusion that criminals in the State of São Paulo have the profile depicted, but that everything indicates that this is the profile accepted by the State. This is because certain data point to the possibility of being able to discriminate within the justice system. “It may be that only these people are detected and, even punished”, states the coordinator. “This is possible, but we do not have the information to be able to draw this conclusion”.

Second stage
To be carried out in partnership with the Analysis and Planning Coordination of the State Security Secretariat, and with the support of the Research Nucleus of the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Science (IBCCRIM), the project will have a second stage. “This is preliminary work, since we still have to evaluate the quality of the data”, observes the general coordinator. Based in this second stage, Luiz Henrique Soares and Renato Sérgio Lima believe it possible to learn about the phenomenon of crime in greater depth and to improve the perception that people, policemen, and academics have of the profile of criminals.

The project
Consolidation of a State System of Data Analysis and Production and the Establishment of a Model for Handling Information to Support Public Policy in Justice and Security  (nº 00/02002-0); Type Public Policy Research; Coordinator Luiz Henrique Proença Soares – Seade; Investment R$ 29,600.00